Vets watch as insurgents undo sacrifices in Iraq

Retired Army Col. Barry Johnson: "In many ways, it just feels like a waste — a waste of many lives, a waste of many years"
Associated Press
Jun 13, 2014

Marine Sgt. Colin Archipley's unit suffered heavy casualties in the savage house-to-house fighting againstinsurgents holed up in the Iraqi city of Fallujah in 2004.

Nearly a decade later, he watched in frustration from his organic farm north of San Diego as an al-Qaida splinter group seized control of Fallujah, Mosul and other Iraqi cities that Lima Company and other units risked so much to protect.

Iraq's opportunity "was squandered," he said. "I'm not sure what else we could have done."

At VFW halls, kitchen tables and rehabilitation clinics around the country, this week's stunning advance into Mosul left many U.S. veterans reflecting with bitterness and sadness on the sacrifices of a war that lasted for more than eight years and killed nearly 4,500 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

"In many ways, it just feels like a waste — a waste of many lives, a waste of many years," retired Army Col. Barry Johnson said from his home in Potlatch, Idaho.

On the broad stage of Middle East affairs, the unraveling highlights the resilience of extremists and the risks of weakened central authority. It also raises wider questions about the future of Afghanistan after international forces withdraw later this year and about the growing influence of militant Islamic factions among Syrian rebels.

Johnson stood on Iraq's border with Kuwait as the last U.S. military convoy left in late 2011. Even then, he said, it was evident that Iraq's military and security forces were not up to the challenges at hand.

Those tests included trying to confront strongholds of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, which has managed to drive back better-armed Iraqi forces. Iraq's Shiite-led government — allied with both Washington and Tehran — is also increasingly estranged from Iraq's Sunni minority, which claims the Shiite leadership runs roughshod over their rights and concerns.

"It was clear that the Iraqi government and the Iraqi military were not going to be able to sustain themselves and keep the situation from deteriorating," Johnson said.

Because the cities loom so large on the roll call of Iraq battlefields, their loss sharpens the sting.

Fallujah, a mostly Sunni city west of Baghdad, was the scene in 2004 of some of heaviest U.S. urban combat since Vietnam. It later became a centerpiece of Washington's efforts to recruit Sunni militias as allies againstinsurgents.

"Losing Fallujah, when I heard that the first time a few months back, I really just honestly wanted to throw chairs across the room, because what I've done there has basically just been undone," said former Marine Sgt. Ben Colin at VFW Post No. 6776 in Albany, New York. "We just basically went there and did nothing, in my opinion."

In Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, U.S. forces battled block by block against insurgents in 2009 before the deadline for American troops to leave major urban centers.

Martin Schaefer, an Army reservist who did two tours in Iraq and now lives in Darien, Illinois, groped for the right word to define his emotions. Not mad or upset, he said.

"Sad," he decided. "Sad to see that the work that had been accomplished by the U.S. and Iraqi forces is being undone by an insurgency."

In the Boston suburb of Arlington, veteran Jeffrey Chunglo winced at reports of insurgents seizing U.S. military equipment, including armored vehicles and weapons that had been left with Iraqi forces to defend Mosul.

"I think we were in a hurry for an exit strategy," said Chunglo, who served as a senior hospital corpsman with the Navy. "I think, obviously, a little more time could have been spent putting together a better plan for ongoing monitoring — especially over the last year — to limit the (insurgents') impact."

But many veterans acknowledge the pressures in Washington from a war-weary nation, particularly with Taliban violence on the rise in Afghanistan and demands for greater involvement in the Arab Spring uprisings.

New York veteran Matthew Pelak questions the staggering mandate given to U.S. commanders after the 2003 invasion to bridge the huge rifts between Iraq's three major groups: Sunnis who once rode high under Saddam, majority Shiites who took the mantle after Saddam's fall and the semi-autonomous Kurds in the north.

"We removed the government, the standing army, any way for that country to organize itself," said Pelak, a former Army sergeant who served in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and later returned as a security contractor with the company then called Blackwater. "So it's a bit tough to just say, 'Hey, let's all play nice in the sand box.'"

In Iraq, Marine Staff Sgt. Marcus Berleson of Weatherford, Texas, served as a squad leader. In Afghanistan, he lost both arms and vision in his left eye trying to disarm an improvised bomb in December 2011.

"When we pulled out of (Iraq), we left a big power void," said Berleson, who now does outreach with wounded veterans. "We didn't have the country stable on its feet yet. It didn't have a true infrastructure. It didn't have true security forces or a military that was actually willing to stand up and secure the country for itself."

But few veterans appeared to support a return of U.S. ground forces to Iraq — a prospect that Pelak called "an incredibly bad idea."

"I think there is no place for the U.S. military right now in there," he said. "It would further just confuse the situation in an already chaotic environment."

For a former top U.S. commander in northern Iraq, the images of Mosul falling to insurgents leave only a sense of helplessness and sorrow.

"I keep going back to the number of soldiers who have given the best part of their lives to help make this country (Iraq) better," said retired Gen. Mark Hertling, who now lives in Orlando, Florida. "It's saddening and it's disheartening, and you know you can't do anything about it to fix it."


Darwin's choice

Please research the reason for the "Mission Accomplished" banner of the aircraft carrier the President was speaking on. So many idiots believing it was in regards to the war is sickening. Those sailors were returning after a 250 day deployment, hence the banner. It was NOT regarding the war, or Bush. But, hey, whatever lets you enjoy the current failure in office, and there's no blame there.....!


This admin has bailed out Wall street for over 2 trillion dollars so far with no end in sight. 85 billion a month adds up so the waste of your tax dollars has not stopped it has just switched recipients. (The wars fed the military industrial complex, Now its just the bankers and scam artist who can get more taxpayer funds from a gullible government)


PS. That $7,000.00 figure is a net figure. If it were figured at a gross income would equate into nearly $10,000.00 for every American man, woman and child. Think how much more constructively that money could have been used here in the U.S. (The average family could have received nearly $25,000. That would have spurned our economy rather than line the pockets of corporate America {AGAIN}.


... and to think we coulda spent it on welfare for illegals.... "invest" was the word obama used to use...

Well, that's gonna happen too!!!

Steve P

Headline, article? Another example of the Award Winning Register expertise in journalism.


This article has been a test of the SR Readership System in order to help assess the literacy level of the commenters. :)


@ SR:

Why bother publishing long-winded articles that obviously never get read by most?

Just throw up words like "Bush," Iraq War," "Obama," et. al and the commenters will help provide you with numerous site hits.


""We all know what happens with fatigue," said Mathias Basner, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania medical school and the sleep expert on the committee. "The first thing you expect to see is attention going down, reaction time slows, you have behavioral lapses or micro-sleeps"
It seems most SR readers are fatigued and are taking micro sleeps while commenting.


Not surprised at conditions in Iraq. Funny, Bush the elder was smarter than little Bush. As to safety in the air, it was Raygun that fired all the controllers to break the union.


Re: "the union,"

And public ee. unions don't lead to political cronyism and campaign funding shenanigans?

Pres. Reagan breaking PATCO - old news.


I always thought it rather ironic that Raygun (tParty idol) was all for unions in Poland, and belonged to SAG but he couldn't have the air controllers being union.
Of course we have NO political cronyism and campaign funding shenanigans NOW!


Re: "unions in Poland,"

Communist countries like Poland had "unions," only they were arms of the govt.

Not dissimilar as in the U.S. with the unholy alliance of the public ee. unions and the Dems - cash and favoritism.

Solidarity was a union independent of the govt.

Apples and oranges AND again: Old news.


I always thought it rather ironic that Reagan followed the law when dealing with PATCO.

On August 3, 1981, the union declared a strike, seeking better working conditions, better pay and a 32-hour workweek. In addition, PATCO no longer wanted to be included within the civil service clauses that had haunted it for decades. In doing so, the union violated a law — 5 U.S.C. (Supp. III 1956) 118p. — that banned strikes by government unions.


Good point.

See: Executive Order 10988

"Workers gained the right to join unions and other organizations of workers; however they were not permitted to strike,"


Here is the article that goes with the picture and title.


Gotcha SR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


Contango why keep blo-ing? Opps. ....that's all you know.


Re: "Opps (sp),"

Couldn't respond to either of the above topics eh?

Reality: 10, kooky kurtie: - 10.

Jason Werling

Well, that got out of hand, didn't it?

Sorry for the inconvenience. If you would like to continue the conversation regarding this article that now matches the photo and headline, please do.

The air traffic controller story has been posted in its entirety HERE.

Contango, "This article has been a test of the SR Readership System in order to help assess the literacy level of the commenters. :)"   You may be on to something here.


@ JW:

lol. Thanks.

Stop It

Good call Tango. Look at the proof on how many just commented on the headline? And had some kind of argument? WTF? The whole ret of the article was lost on them. Sad, sorry lot.


Hey Jason . Did it hurt when your people dropped. the ball. You might want to get some people that actually proof read these stories? Lol


So how was Canada in the sixties Winnie?


^^^ Derp!

The Big Dog's back

You called that right Kurt.


Non vet attack. You can't run from facts.


We should stay out of Iraq, period. These so called insurgents are Sunni Muslimes, and I recall correctly, Sadam Hussein was also a Sunni, so it is probably his old gang trying to gain the upper hand they used to have. The cowardly Shites, that are in charge of the current government cannot defend what was given to them by the USA and will need the help of the Shite in Iran to defeat this current uprising. So much for the peace loving muslimes, this conflict has been going on ever since they divided Islam into several denominations, a thousand years ago and nobody has been able to stop their version of the Hatfields and McCoys for all those years and it ain't gonna end now and we should invest another ounce of our blood in this hell hole.